Sinaloa cartel maintains its own school for pilots

The Sinaloa cartel has its own flight school in Cuernavaca, México, where pilots of drug planes get their training, the U.S. government said Wednesday.

The fact is relevant because a drug-laden small plane crashed in Pavas Sunday, although the cartel directing the flight has yet to be identified. The owners of the company that operated the plane are Mexicans.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated the flight school, individuals and other enterprises as drug cartel-related, including Sinaloa Cartel collaborator Alejandro Flores Cacho, 12 of his entities and 16 members of his financial and drug trafficking enterprise located throughout Mexico and Colombia.

Also designated as drug smuggling organizations were Mantenimiento, Aeronautica, Transporte, y Servicios Aereos S.A. de C.V., an aircraft hangar and maintenance business located in Toluca, Mexico; Capicitacion Aeronautica Profesional S.C., the flight school in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and Aero Express Intercontinental S.A. de C.V., a Mexico City-based air cargo carrier.

Flores is a pilot and a fugitive from U.S. justice. His cadre of pilots and operatives coordinate the delivery and distribution of narcotics by air and sea from South America to Mexico and then on to the United States, the Treasury Department said. Designation under the narcotics kingpin act means that U.S. firms cannot do business with the individuals or commercial entities. It also allows the United States to confiscate assets.

The fact that the Sinaloa Cartel’s use of aircraft was well known weighs against the surprise expressed by officials in Costa Rica when drugs were found on the small plane Sunday at the crash scene. The copilot died and the pilot is in Hospital Mexico. Both are middle-aged, so it is unlikely they learned their skills in Cuernavaca.

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